Leonie Martin is a freelance writer, author and poet based in Chesterfield. Recently she has been hosting community writing sessions aimed at improving people’s wellbeing through imaginative writing. I booked a zoom with her and made myself a fresh coffee to find out more about her and her work.
Leonie came to her career in writing after a life spent working in finance. She was the bursar at St Mary’s Catholic High School in Chesterfield, but 20 years ago was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a lifelong condition that affects the brain and nerves. It was time for a lifestyle change.
“I’d always enjoyed reading and putting my thoughts down on paper but had always thought it was something I’d spend more time doing when I retired; the MS diagnosis led me down a new route.”
“I now write freelance features, poetry, facilitate Writing for Wellbeing and Reading for Wellbeing workshops, and have several publications in print and online platforms.”
“The first time I saw my writing in print was fantastic! In 2009 I travelled to London with members of my old writing group (Wingerworth Wordsmiths) to collect a joint award for our prizewinning anthology, Perspectives.”
“I’ve written as a contributor to magazines across the county, including Derbyshire Life and Reflections magazine – my first article in 2009 featured a project St Mary’s undertook to raise funds to build a school in Burkina Faso, Africa. Since then, I have covered countless Derbyshire stories and met some amazing people – including the actor Brian Blessed and record breaking local yachtswoman, Dame Ellen MacArthur.”
“My first commissioned book in 2011 was written after volunteering with the MS Trust and MS Society – it was an Essential Guide to living with MS, written not just for the patient but also for friends and family, so those living around someone with MS are aware of the illness and ways to cope.”
“In the immediate future, as part of my MA Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield, I’ll be researching and writing a supernatural/mystical novel based on the reimagined life of a medieval Dutch girl who is thought to be the first documented case of MS.”
In 2017 Leonie worked with Arts Derbyshire on their ‘Writing Ambitions’ project. Through this she delivered several Writing for Wellbeing workshops in various community settings across Chesterfield. “I found this work hugely humbling – everyone has a story to tell and deserves to be heard and valued – especially those living on the margins of society. I facilitated workshops at Staveley and Chesterfield libraries on Saturday mornings, as well as Potters Place, Hope Springs Recovery Centre and Women’s Aid.”
More recently we’ve all been dealing with the pandemic in our own way and for Leonie it was time to review how the workshops took place and move to the virtual world.
“I’ve been using Eventbrite to set up meetings and facilitating workshops on Zoom, with local people plus attendees around the world joining. It’s been such a rewarding experience.”
“I recently worked alongside Chesterfield writer Lynn Ludditt on: Relax.Reflect.Write! as part of Writing East Midlands’ ‘Elder Tree’ project – a three-year, region wide programme, empowering groups of older people across the East Midlands to create new work stimulated by museums, archives, heritage spaces and professional writers. These programs ran partly online and partly by email. Writing from our project was collated into an eBook and includes an inspiring variety of Derbyshire memories and life in the area. “It was so rewarding to see people’s confidence grow over the course of the project,” explains Leonie.
“I’ve also been holding workshops for a similar project with Chesterfield Museum to capture peoples’ lockdown experiences. For one of the writing activities I used a picture of an old apothecary’s cabinet, asking people to reflect and write about something that helped them in lockdown which might be represented by some of the little drawers.”
Many of Leonie’s participants are people who might not normally attend a creative writing group. “It’s not about competing with each other, but about giving people the confidence and motivation to get started on a piece of writing and share their work. My resources include interesting pictures as writing prompts, and each workshop is themed differently trying to encourage people to use the five senses in their writing – considering more than what we just see or hear, but what we smell, taste, and feel. The process is different to how people may have been taught about creative writing from an early age. I’m not looking for a polished piece of work so much as imaginative engagement with the writing activities. There are no academic rights and wrongs.”
“Each 2-hour workshop includes a short comfort break. My role as facilitator is to ensure participants feel relaxed and safe as this creates a flow where thoughts are focused, and people can release thoughts onto paper. Beyond my sessions, I can signpost participants to the next step if they want to continue their writing journey.”
Leonie loves to work with existing community groups, employers, social groups, even team building events and is keen to point out that there is often grant funding available to help with wellbeing focussed projects should you want to set up a taster workshop or a bespoke series of workshops.
Earlier this year she held workshops for the Peak District National Park rangers who hadn’t seen or worked with their colleagues for months. “It wasn’t the usual team building event –my writing workshops help people to remove the social masks we all wear,” explains Leonie. “People open up and you often find that those who are usually quieter and more retiring, taking centre stage.”
“Our modern life moves at such a pace that we’re under pressure to look like we’re ‘having a great time’ – culturally we’re often not allowed any time to escape, to be quiet and reflect using our imaginations, to practise gratitude and creativity.”
Keep up to date with Leonie’s work at the contacts below and if you’d like her to facilitate a workshop do get in touch.
Follow the link to view the celebratory e-book from the Writing East Midlands Project Relax.Recall.Write!
Words: Paul Chapman
Images: Leonie Martin
M: 07759 587164